There are a lot of hustles in the internet game. It’s hard to get paid as a full-time content creator, especially freelance (and especially as a blogger), so you have to find creative ways to supplement your income.
One of these ways is by tapping into the market of free swag. I recently touched on the subject in regards to landing vape sponsorships specifically, and much of that advice is applicable to the business in general. Here’s some more information to add to that piece.
What Swag Is, Shorty?
More than just some hip-hop vernacular like #YOLO, swag is free promotional items from marketing companies. Every successful company (and those hoping to be) haz a marketing budget, dedicated to raising brand awareness and sales. This means companies will often give or loan free products in exchange for reviews, sponsorships, affiliate deals, and more.
The quality of swag varies greatly, depending on who and where you are. I imagine someone like Leonardo DiCaprio wouldn’t have an issue getting a free Cartier watch as swag, but I’m happy with my Goal Zero portable solar panel, iBattz battery bank, etc.
In order to track down the best swag, you have to track down the right company, and be prepared to highlight your value to their brand and bottom line, which is to make money.
Tracking Down Swag
When you list your blog or website anywhere, including social media among your friends, how do you categorize it?
This is the first step in selling yourself to anyone. My blog focuses mostly on tech, entertainment, business, and lifestyle, as the categories above should somewhat allude to. This means when I look for companies and events with free swag, I focus on my traffic in those areas (along with the high-profile publications I’ve been syndicated on).
From that point, start locating the marketing managers for these companies. Smaller companies may outsource most marketing efforts, so a CEO can be contacted, but your best best will always be the marketing people. A simple “cold call” email with a cover letter explaining who you are, what you want, and why it’ll benefit the company to provide it will do.
Now before you start writing that ransom note and get yourself in trouble, let me explain a little bit about what you can provide a company…
Prove Your Worth
Everyone has desire for free stuff; it’s free stuff. If you want to prove yourself worthy of receiving something for free, you have to show proof that the end result will be more sales for the company to recoup the loss of giving you something for free.
Google Analytics is your best friend as a blogger or webmaster, as it’s a third party verification of your traffic. Currently my blog only gets 15k unique monthly visitors, which is a fraction of where it was this time last year, but good considering this version of the site has only been up for a little over two months.
With one screenshot, I can show a potential advertiser my blog’s value in exposing the brand to this pool. Further demographics break down my audience into age, sex, geographic, and other categories, which contribute to my blog’s marketability.
In addition, any guest posts I publish on notable sites are included to show the possibility of content appearing in other places. Some products I write direct reviews for, while others I simply mention my usage of. One is a sponsorship (where I’m given free products to use and showcase), while others are media review units (meant for the purpose of providing an unbiased product review).
The more expensive the retail value of an item is, the more worth you’ll have to prove. My 15k readers can get me into events like E3 and CES for some swag, but I won’t be walking out with a free VR headset. Speaking of which…
Trade Show Swag
Trade shows are among the best places to get free swag. Instead of talking to the usual sales staff (some of them will be there as well), you’ll get an opportunity to talk directly to the marketing team and executives. At trade shows, nearly every booth has some form of promotional swag, that could range from keychains and lanyards to stress balls, bags, cups, toys, clothes, trinkets, and games.
Media passes to trade shows, conventions, and expos are typically free, and the level of access this gives you (along with the qualifications to receive a pass) vary greatly. Applications are typically open months in advance, and you’ll end up on a lot of email lists, widening your swagnet.
Business cards will highly increase your chances of receiving swag, as well as a positive attitude and professional appearance. After receiving the general swag, also ask for a media kit and media review unit. Like your favorite musical artist, every product you see in stores has a media kit filled with high resolution pictures, videos, and press releases. These are helpful in putting your coverage together for the brand.
I’ve obtained quite a few media review units and have followed through with a large majority of my end to provide coverage. Those I didn’t provide coverage for were because the products were so bad, it would’ve been counterproductive for me to do so.
Trade shows to look into for electronics are CES, CTIA, E3, BlizzCon, DefCon, PAX, InfoComm, and NAMM. Trade shows exist for food, fabrics, hygiene, and anything else you can think of. There are also a wide variety of writing and blogging workshops and expos that are run very similar. Find your way into anything local, regional, and international.
Swag to look for at these events includes free tech gear, gaming codes, collectibles (especially buttons, pins, and coins), and anything useful to your personal life or that may have value. Selling and trading this swag online can easily supplement your income (and you can stock up your “in case someone surprises you with a gift” closet).
Provide Continued Coverage and Value
If you want to continue receiving free products, you have to put in the work. Also don’t flake on a company’s marketing team or PR company just because you don’t like the product (yes, this is something I’ve done, but don’t). The PR community is a tight-knit group, and you never know who the person you burned may represent next. That shitty mattress company you burned could cost you J.K. Rowling.
Send links to published posts to marketing reps to show them the value you’ve provided. They may not always notice the traffic increase directly from your site (and you may not even provide much), but the overall brand profile will be strengthened.
Whether a review unit or sponsorship, you’re entering into a partnership with a brand. How well that partnership goes is up to you. Make the most of every opportunity, and you can easily supplement your lack of income using free stuff. Just remember the difference between you and a beggar on the street is that you earn your keep.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared on Huffington Post, Fast Company, BBC, Intuit’s Small Business Resource, Main Street, The Street, Hardcore Droid, and more.